A woman no longer faces attempted second-degree murder charges in connection with a car-train collision near Lyons, Neb., that injured her two daughters.
Burt County officials initially alleged that Jessica Knutsen purposely stopped her car on railroad tracks the night of Feb. 7.
But new evidence led prosecutors to drop those charges to two counts of negligent child abuse, one a felony and the other a misdemeanor.
Knutsen, 26, of Lyons, is accused of reckless behavior in trying to cross the tracks ahead of a BNSF train while her daughters, ages 4 and 2, were not properly secured in the vehicle. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison for felony child abuse and up to one year in jail for the misdemeanor charge.
She is free on bail with the stipulation that she not have any contact with her daughters.
Burt County Attorney Dan Smith said Wednesday that law officers initially received information that Knutsen had intentionally stopped the vehicle on the tracks in front of an oncoming train.
A review of footage from a video camera on the engine of the train, however, shows Knutsen applying the brakes before reaching the tracks.
“We could tell from the camera that the brakes were applied and she was stopping before she got to the tracks,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, the car did not stop soon enough and slid onto the tracks.”
The girls were ejected from the vehicle. Knutsen is believed to have been ejected, too, though she was found standing by a drainage ditch to the south of where the vehicle came to a halt.
The Burt County Sheriff's Office said the accident occurred at 8:14 p.m. about one-half mile north of Lyons on County Road 10.
The train's conductor told a deputy that the car was northbound on a gravel road and the train was traveling northwest. As the train approached the rail crossing, the conductor said, it appeared “that the vehicle sped up as if trying to beat the train to the crossing.”
Knutsen and her daughters were taken to Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha. Knutsen and the 2-year-old were treated there and released, but the critically injured 4-year-old is now at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln.
The crash happened one week after Knutsen, who filed for divorce from her husband last fall, was arrested by a Lyons police officer and charged with domestic assault and flight to avoid arrest.
According to court documents, Knutsen's boyfriend called police to the couple's home on Jan. 31. The boyfriend alleged that Knutsen bit him, bruised his chest and choked him, leaving marks on his throat.
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